Six years ago, all of this seemed improbable. Former assistant Jerry Sandusky had just been sentenced to prison for 60 years for sexual abuse, legendary head coach Joe Paterno passed away just one month after being fired by the school, and there were rumblings that the NCAA could hand down the infamous Death Penalty, which would shut down one of the most prestigious programs in college football history for two years.
But all the head coach turnover, beatdowns from Big Ten giants, a loss to Temple, and awful line and QB play seem like distant memories. Dating back to last year’s 49-10 loss in the Big House against Michigan, Penn State has gone 17-1 in their past 18 games, with the only lost in a thriller against USC in the 2017 Rose Bowl. In this 18 game span, the Penn State offense has been beyond explosive, averaging 41.1 Points Per Game. Without this huge run, James Franklin could’ve been looking for a new job, and Penn State would’ve been looking for a third head coach in a five year span. But with a blocked punt, a blocked kick returned for a touchdown, and six sacks in an upset win over number two Ohio State in 2016, James Franklin was able to turn the ship around and led the Nittany Lions to the 2016 Big Ten Championship. Now, Penn State is in contention for a shot in the Big Ten title game yet again, and have one the of the brightest futures in college football.
The one key moment that set up Penn State’s dramatic turnaround last year didn’t happen on the field, instead, it happened in contract negotiations with a new offensive coordinator. When former Fordham Head Coach Jim Moorhead accepted James Franklin’s offer to become Penn State’s offensive coordinator before the 2016 season, the Penn State offense got a complete philosophical overhaul. Moorhead’s offense at Fordham was one of the best in the FCS, as the Rams ranked ninth in scoring during his tenure. In the seasons leading up to Moorhead’s arrival, the Penn State offense was one of the worst in college football. In 2014, Penn State ranked 114th in the nation in yards per game. The 2015 season was much of the same, as the Nittany Lions ranked 105th in the nation in yards per game. Moorhead’s hire brought immediate impact for the Lions in 2016. Moorhead’s high tempo, spread offense made the best of the great athletes Franklin recruited since his hire in 2014. Moorehead was able to improve Penn State’s yards per game by 100 yards. Most importantly though, his offense utilizes the playmaking abilities of two of Penn State’s best players. And those two players are good enough to take the Nittany Lions to a place that felt so far away just a year ago.
Saquon has already had himself a day. He took a kick to the house for 98 yards to start the game off, and it’s only right for the decorated tailback to end this game off. There’s right around four minutes left in the ballgame, and the Lions are up big against Indiana. Barkley lines up next to McSorley, and runs a simple bubble route. McSorley lightly tosses the ball towards Saquon, and at first, it looks like a simple screen that Hoosiers look to have defended very well. But then, Saquon stops, jumps in the air, and lofts the ball to a wide open DaeSean Hamilton who strolls into the endzone. That’s right, Saquon tosses the rock too. Through five games, Saquon scored on a run, reception, punt return, kickoff return, and a throw. Saquon is unlike any player in college football history. He has vision, speed, agility, and strength to turn a five yard rush to a twenty five yard rush. Much like what Reggie Bush did in his 2006 Heisman campaign, Barkley is making plays that leave onlookers speechless. Weather it be a cut that leaves a would be tackler slip in the dirt, or hurdle that makes a division one athlete look absolutely silly, Barkley never ceases to amaze. While it may feel like the 5’8” tank has accomplished everything on a football, it still feels like he can reach another level. the tailback has the inside track on the most coveted individual award in college athletics , the Heisman Memorial Award, but that’s not what he’s aiming for. He and this PSU squad have their sights set on something much bigger
While Penn State’s’ hopes for Playoff spot and a shot at the National Title have been dashed, it shouldn’t take away from what this team has accomplished and what they can accomplish in the future. The bitter losses to Ohio State (PSU was up 35-20 heading to the fourth quarter) and to Michigan State (MSU kicker Matt Coghlin made a 34 yard field goal to down the Nittany Lions) have knocked Penn State out of the playoff picture, but it shouldn’t take away from what the players and coaching staff have been able to accomplish. Just last year, Penn State Football was nowhere even close to playoff contention. Penn State football is now back in the upper echelon of football, and the future is bright. As of the writing of this article, Penn State has the number 3 recruiting class according to 247.com, with 5-star WR Justin Shorter and 4-star RB Ricky Slade highlighting the loaded 2018 class. For once in Happy Valley, there is hope. While the 2017 Penn State Football was unable to achieve their lofty goals, they have put the program back to where the rabid fanbase wants them to be.